Crime Doesn't Pay: The Exception That Proves the Rule
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Criminal masterminds are rarer in real life than in movies like Michael Mann’s 1981 film Thief, in which James Caan plays an ultra-competent Chicago burglar always lit by the glow of neon off rain-slicked streets. If you are that prudent, thorough, and organized maybe you should get a job where they don’t put you in prison when you mess up, such as, say, directing movies about criminal masterminds. For example, Mann’s recent cyber-criminal movie Black Hat was a bigger net loss than just about any real life heist, but he’s still a free man.

Marginal Revolution reports on a study of thieves (or at least of thieves uncautious enough to admit they had been thieves to the National Longitudinal Study of Youth), which reveals that crime doesn’t pay.

But occasionally somebody makes a living at stealing valuable objects. I recall decades ago in Chicago seeing on the local news a bunch of suburban police chiefs crowing that they had finally caught the a prolific silverware thief, who I found a few days later was the brother of a very bright friend of mine. I’ve finally tracked down a news account after all these years, and my memory of the story wasn’t too far off. (I’ll XXX out the Flatware Burglar’s name due to my friend sharing it. And it’s a common name.)

318 Suburban Thefts Linked To City Man

October 30, 1994 |

By Lou Carlozo, Tribune Staff Writer.

To the scores of North Shore residents who have agonized over their stolen silverware and tea services, take heart-and call Evanston police.

Police have arrested a suspect in heists by the “flatware burglar” and have seized thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, dinnerware and decorative items stashed in his North Side residence.

Investigators have linked XXX to 318 burglaries over a two-year period in Evanston, Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth and Glencoe, Evanston Police Chief Gerald Cooper said Saturday.

In all, XXX may have been responsible for more than 1,000 home burglaries in the North Shore area, Cooper said.

“He boasted to us that he committed some 5,000 burglaries” over two decades, Cooper said. “There’s a little bit of (exaggeration) in that, but he’s done a substantial amount.”

Evanston Police Sgt. Chuck Wernick alleged that XXX was by far the most prolific home burglar he has encountered in 23 years of police work.

“Very clever, very catlike would be the best way to describe him,” Wernick said.

“Once we knew where he was,” Wernick said, “he was just as difficult to track down. He was just a shadow.” XXX’s total alleged take is believed to be in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” including $30,000 in merchandise taken from one night of activity in Wilmette, Wernick said.

XXX was arrested with the help of a task force made up of more than a dozen officers from the four suburbs that had been investigating the thefts over the past four months, Cooper said.

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